Finally, the door opened to allow a heavy set woman in. She was mid-way into saying something Joanie couldn’t understand. Then she turned and saw Joanie. The reaction was instantaneous. The woman’s face crumpled, she tensed and dropped her hand bag.


It was whispered, but the word sounded tortured. Joanie’s heart pounded again. The young girl, obviously oblivious to the sudden tension, said something to her mother in Xhosa. Surprise lit the woman’s eyes; then she looked at Joanie again.

“You don’t speak our language?”

Joanie shook her head.

“What are you doing here?”

Joanie opened her mouth to answer, but, she realised with dismay, all she could do was burst into tears. Sobs wrecked her body. She was crying quietly but sniffing her nose loudly. No one hugged her or tried to comfort her. They just let her cry on her own. Suddenly Joanie wished Beth was there. She missed her family so much it hurt.

It was two hours later when Joanie finally finished telling her story to Nomhle and Zoli Thabatha. She was tired and she wanted nothing more than to curl in bed and sleep.

“I never imagined I’d see you again,” Nomhle, her mother, said.

Joanie’s heart squeezed. She was dying to ask why. Why had Nomhle abandoned her? Why had she been given away when Nomhle had kept her other two children?

Nomhle sighed, “I was nineteen. Rural. Clueless, really. I came to Cape Town on an academic scholarship from Transkei. I got taken by the city.” She shook her head at this, “It was such a cliché. Fell for the wrong type of boy and fell pregnant.”

Joanie wasn’t sure she wanted to hear any more, but she couldn’t stop staring at Nomhle’s face. So much like hers. In fact, Joanie was sure they looked exactly alike.

“Your father,” Nomhle continued, “he stayed with me for a while, but one night I woke up and he just wasn’t there. I cried for two whole months. I talked with one of the councillors from the scholarship and she advised me to… well, I was so miserable I just let her organise everything. I could keep the scholarship as long as I gave up the baby. I gave up my baby.”

Joanie cried again, “And you never looked back. You just went on with your life?”

Nomhle shook her head. “Yes. Nhlanhla, you have to –”

“My name is Joanie.”

“You have to understand that I couldn’t give you what you needed!”

Joanie scoffed. That was a lame excuse. Her mother couldn’t love her. That was all it came down to. She had been a burden not worth dealing with. Her mother had chosen a stupid scholarship over her.

“Much good your scholarship did you,” Joanie said sarcastically, harshly gesturing the less than presentable shack. Immediately, hurt sprang into Nomhle’s eyes.

Good! Joanie thought. Good. I’ve been hurting for eighteen years!